Fidgeting Hands

Let’s Fidget!

Would Let’s Fidget! have been a better idea than Let’s Move! for First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature obesity initiative? Maybe so, if you read between the lines of a rather thorough review of the evidence base for non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) in obesity.

NEAT consists of fidgeting, walking, standing, and many other routine movements that don’t qualify as exercise, but can account for a lot of the calories that people burn daily. When teachers tell kids to “sit still,” they’re fighting an instinct to burn calories through NEAT.

Pedro Villablanca and colleagues point out in their new review published by Mayo Clinic Proceedings that:

Compliance with purposeful exercise is low. On the contrary, NEAT has a higher rate of
adherence over time. This was observed in a Chinese study that compared the prevalence of purposeful exercise and NEAT in 32,005 adolescents; NEAT remained high over time and seemed easier to accumulate than exercise in adolescents regardless of age or sex.

In other words, people might not be so good at sticking with an exercise regimen, but teach them to keep moving and they tend to keep doing it. Any parent or teacher can tell you that it’s not easy to make kids sit still.

Clearly, NEAT should not be viewed as a substitute for moderate or vigorous exercise and the authors point this out. Most often, though, physical activity recommendations act as if working out at the gym can make up for sitting still all day. It won’t.

So let’s move, let’s fidget, let’s not sit still.

Click here to read the review in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and click here to read more about research on grown-ups fidgeting at work in Fast Company.

Fidgeting Hands, photograph © Mark Spearman / flickr

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